Otto Rehhagel: The ‘King’ Who Turned 150/1 Greek Outsiders into Champions of Europe

Otto Rehhagel: The 'King' Who Turned 150/1 Greek Outsiders into Champions of Europe

It was one of the greatest shocks in football history.

Theo Zagorakis, a veteran midfielder who had briefly played for Leicester but never excelled outside his home country, lifted high the European Championship trophy on 4 July 2004 after Greece had beaten Portugal in Lisbon to be crowned continental champions.

Traianos Dellas, Angelos Charisteas, Giorgos Karagounis, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Angelos Basinas, Antonios Nikopolidis…all legends from that moment on.

And the man who masterminded it all from the sidelines: ‘King’ Otto Rehhagel.

Theodoros Zagorakis

Denmark had triumphed against the odds at Euro ’92. But the Danes, even without star man Michael Laudrup, possessed a handful of top stars to complement their plucky underdog spirit. For Greece, there was no Peter Schmeichel or Brian Laudrup. It was bigger.

To underline the size of the shock, consider that prior to 2004 Greece had not qualified for the European Championship since 1980, nor had the country been to a major tournament since humiliation at the 1994 World Cup, where they lost all three games and failed to score.

Rehhagel was appointed coach in the summer of 2001. His first game in charge saw his team thrashed 5-1 by Finland in a World Cup qualifier. A month later, Greece threatened to shock England until a famously late David Beckham free-kick rescued a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

Greece finished that qualifying campaign with two wins, narrow home victories against Albania and Finland – both achieved before Rehhagel, and conceded 17 goals in eight games. The new German coach set about making changes, bringing in new players who fitted his preferred system, dispensing with others who didn’t, and creating a cohesiveness not previously seen in the Greek setup.

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